Who to choose as your branding partner

And how you can have the best of both worlds

You have personal and business goals, and you know that having a strong brand strategy will help you reach them. When you start to look for the best partner to help you achieve this, the choices are myriad: from large agencies with big teams, through to smaller boutique studios and individual freelancers. Their work looks pretty good but how do you know you’ll be getting the best outcome for you? And how should getting that ideal outcome feel?

Agency Model

Firstly, who can help you get there?

The agency

Choosing a traditional design agency is right for many. I followed the studio-style agency model with Touchpoint Design and with my previous London agency. Typically, you’ll meet the agency owner/senior staff to start off with and then you’ll go on to work with an account handler and the creative director supported by an in-house team of juniors and middleweight designers – a sizeable team focusing on you and your brand.

Downsides to the agency model

Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown at winning the work but it may not be possible to deliver on all the promises made at that initial stage:

  • You can have a fantastic onboarding experience but then may end up feeling discarded or passed on. Given agency and staff overheads, the owner and senior team are always looking to fill the pipeline and seek out the next client win.
  • There may be pressure for the agency to distinguish itself within the industry ecosystem by winning awards. Chasing awards may make for a happy agency but could mean you won’t be getting the solution that’s absolutely right for you.
  • Agency creative teams love the buzz of the presentation – the razzmatazz of The Big Reveal. Nuance and subtle insights, things that are important to you and drawn out in the discovery and strategy stages, can get lost in the excitement, with further attrition when the project is handed down to the more junior team members.
Individual freelancer

The lone freelancer

The lone, independent freelancer sits at the opposite end of the spectrum to the agency. Again, this is an approach that can be the right one for many businesses, not least because it seems cost-effective. Maybe you have a pre-existing relationship with a freelancer and you know they have a deep understanding of your business challenges? Even if you make sure you’re working with a freelance branding specialist rather than a freelance design generalist, branding projects are often best served by bringing those with specialisms in. Quite simply, one person may struggle to fulfil all the elements of the work.

Potential pitfalls of hiring a freelance generalist

  • Do they have the experience to know when a job is beyond their area of expertise and will they know when to step back and when they can push you further?
  • Are they more of a generalist, covering web, graphic and logo design, rather than being a strategic thinker? A lack of strategic experience will demand a lot of time and direction from you.
  • Although all of us need to have the time and space to learn, you don’t want someone learning their craft on your time – it might not always be easy to tell to what involvement a designer has had in the projects in their portfolio.
Consultancy model

How you can have the best of both worlds…

The consultancy model

(And why we moved from being an agency to becoming a consultancy.)

This month we launched our new name and business structure, going from being an agency, Touchpoint Design, to becoming a brand consultancy, The Co-Foundry – an experienced brand design consultant with an outstanding pool of specialists around her.

I did this because I want to offer a real alternative. After more than 25 years in the industry, and having run creative and tech teams, I saw that many of my clients would benefit from something very different to the traditional ways of thinking and doing branding work – a personal guide and facilitator who stayed on board all the way through, from discovery, to delivery of the final output.

A pool of talent

Having access to the most appropriate people for your branding project brings significant benefits. I’m a huge believer in people honing their specialisms. The current climate means that far too many junior designers and generalist freelance graphic designers are under pressure to work across areas as diverse as motion graphics, website design, typography and packaging.

As the consultant, personal guide and facilitator, I’m able to build out and bring in the best talent, unconstrained by the fixed skillset inherent to an agency in-house team. Of course creatives are, by their very nature, adaptable but the consultancy model means having a larger pool to pick from. You get the best writer, designer, photographer or motion designer for your project and we’re able to go deep, draw out insights and ensure the eventual creative solution is the right one for you – not for our portfolio, or the next award entry.

It’s the essence of branding done with you, not to you – leaner and more agile than an agency but more experienced, better resourced and potentially better connected than a lone freelancer.

Finally, how should that ideal outcome feel?

Keep in mind that at the end of the day, after assessing on skills, your choice of branding partner should also be guided by intangibles such as chemistry and gut feel. From these, the trust you build will go a long way towards you feeling total ownership of your brand.

The ideal outcome of a branding project should give you complete clarity on who you are, what your audience cares about and how you’re distinct from your competition. It’s never just a colour change or a new ‘badge’ but something that communicates the essence of who you are and how it feels to do business with you.

With the right branding you’ll feel comfortable in your own skin, your team will get it and be totally on board with it, and everyone will pull together,presenting the business on-brand and in the best possible light.

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